UK product developers and engineers slower to adopt AI than European counterparts


UK product developers and engineers are taking a slower approach to implementing artificial intelligence (AI) compared to their European counterparts, according to new research conducted by digital manufacturer Protolabs.

Less than 40% of UK respondents in a survey of 392 manufacturers, engineers, and product developers said they are planning to implement the technology within their businesses, compared to 71% of French, 50% of Germans, and 44% of Italians.

This was despite UK businesses being the most optimistic about AI’s potential. More than 70% of UK respondents said they believed the benefits of AI would outweigh the risks. This compares to just 53% of French respondents who thought the same.

In total, more than 4 in 5 French (81%) and Italians (82%) thought that AI would significantly impact their industry in the next five years. By contrast, only two-thirds (67%) of individuals in the UK and 71% of Germans felt the same.

The research was conducted as part of a larger project with FT Longitude, which includes interviews with leading experts and futurologists on key topics affecting manufacturing in 2024 and beyond. These will be released in three audio features—the first will look at AI’s impact and the challenges businesses deploying this technology face.

“We work with businesses across Europe that are deploying cutting-edge manufacturing and design techniques and technologies, which currently includes AI,” explained Bjoern Klaas, Managing Director and Vice President EMEA at Protolabs. “One of the challenges many face is that their data or processes are not yet ready for them to make the most of AI implementations. Hence, they risk wasting time and resources on something that may not bring the expected rewards.

“While it seems that UK manufacturers are a step behind, this may not necessarily be the case. Many manufacturers are in a situation where they need to take one step backwards in order to go two forwards. Though they foresee great opportunities with the technology, they may simply be taking a more cautious approach. In fact, the experts we have been speaking to are advocating this, advising businesses to make sure their strategy and planning is in place first.” 

The findings of the study are set to be discussed during Protolabs’ Real Talk webinar series. Interviewees include Aric Dromi, strategist, creative advisor and former chief futurologist at Volvo, and Umbar Shakir, partner at business and digital transformation consultancy Gate One.

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